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Kosovar police and ethnic Serb gunmen clashed in Kosovo’s restive northern region this week, a deadly skirmish that killed at least four people and is likely to stir up tensions between Pristina and neighboring Serbia, Reuters reported Monday.

On Sunday, gunmen attacked the village of Banjska, fighting police and barricading themselves in a Serbian Orthodox monastery. Three attackers and one police officer were killed before police retook control of the monastery.

Authorities sealed off the village Monday and began searching for the attackers.

The incident intensified long-standing ethnic disputes in Kosovo, a former Serbian province with a 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority. Around 50,000 ethnic Serbs live in the country’s north, but they have rejected Kosovo’s government following its declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008. These Serbs consider Belgrade as their capital and resist integration into Kosovo’s structures of governance.

Following the weekend clashes, Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti blamed Serbia for orchestrating and financing the attack. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić rejected the allegations and accused Kurti of stoking violence, by opposing the creation of an association of Serb municipalities and launching police operations in the north.

The United States condemned the attacks and urged both Balkan neighbors to defuse the tense situation. Russia – a traditional ally of Serbia that does not recognize Kosovo’s statehood – said it was monitoring the “tense and potentially dangerous” situation in Kosovo.

Tensions have been simmering in Kosovo following violent clashes in May that left more than 90 NATO peacekeeping soldiers and about 50 Serb protesters injured.

Observers said the recent dispute is related to the implementation of a European Union-brokered agreement from a decade ago – approved by a previous Kosovar government – which aimed to create an association of autonomous municipalities, Reuters wrote separately.

However, Kurti fears that such a move would lead to the de facto partitioning of the region along ethnic lines.

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